Category Archives: Traditions

The warp factor

SOMETIMES I wish I’d been a stonemason engaged in restoring cathedral spires, or a potter shaping clay into useful and attractive objects. Or a bookbinder, or a crafter of fine leather, or a cabinetmaker – someone with a skill who can gather raw materials in his hands and fashion them into items that possess beauty. I feel a bit like that today when I visit a weaver’s workshop in the Alpujarran village of Pampaneira, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain . . .

We have visitors staying; and one of them, Sue, knows all about weaving and looms and warp and shuttles, and all that stuff, and is keen to impart her knowledge. I listen attentively as we walk about the workshop, though I must admit I find the process a complicated business and most of the information flies over my head.

I look about the workshop and I want to be a weaver. I have an overwhelming desire to sit at the loom and create something that will give people pleasure. Why wasn’t I provided with this option by the careers officer in my final year at school? Why didn’t someone say: “Right, you’ve all read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and we all wear clothes and have access to materials – who wants to be a weaver instead of going in the shipyard?” But it didn’t happen.

Why didn’t someone say: “We all use pots so who wants to be a potter? The world is full of churches and grand buildings, so who wants to be a stonemason?”

Perhaps they did but I just wasn’t listening. Perhaps, at sixteen, many of us do not possess the faculty to see beyond the easiest option. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a weaver now.

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Sounds of silence . . .

IN Capileira, during summer months, flags come out and hand-woven banners are strung above alleys and pinned to walls. Midday arrives, and no one walks the streets except people with cameras. Capileira is Spain’s second-highest village – but that doesn’t render the air any cooler. Perhaps, because it’s closer to the sun, it’s slightly hotter . . . Continue reading Sounds of silence . . .

A wondrous cross

IT’S the annual Cristo festival, traditionally held a fortnight before Good Friday. Jesus and his mother are escorted from the Church of Our Lady of Expectation into the warm evening sunshine. In preparation, evil spirits are banished to ensure their passage will not be hindered. In the old days, the population of the Alpujarran town of Orgiva would bang pots and pans to drive out malevolence. Nowadays, 455 kilograms of gunpowder is used. That’s nearly half a tonne of high explosives in the form of thousands of fireworks. It’s extremely effective . . . Continue reading A wondrous cross

Passing clouds

I ONCE worked with two old boys called Carl and Jimmy. They weren’t old really, they just seemed old at the time. It was the early 1980s and I’d be in my late twenties, they in their early forties. Early forties isn’t old, unless you happen to be observing things from the viewpoint of someone twelve years younger . . . Continue reading Passing clouds

Bread and thanks

oil-1OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 5: An epiphany at the mill. We’ve tipped our sacks of olives into a hopper, and the cumulative weight of Fiona’s, Bruce’s and my produce has topped at 727 kilograms. We’ve hung about for nearly five hours waiting our turn in the milling process. We’ve watched in stoic silence as tonnes of shiny black and green fruits have been mashed in the mashers and spun in the spinners, while our batch edges closer to its fate. Waiting their turn in front of us with about 1.5 tonnes of olives to crush is a large family consisting of the grandfather, six or seven middle-aged sons and daughters – or sons-in-law and daughters-in-law – and a couple of teenage grandchildren. As their golden oil begins to flow from a tap, the grandfather produces a fresh loaf of bread . . . Continue reading Bread and thanks

Oil in the blood

olive-oil-1OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 3: Clothes smell of oil. Arms and legs smell of oil. Hair smells of oil. Oil penetrates the skin and gets under the nails. It soaks the nets, soaks the sacks. It lubricates tool handles and the leather of boots. Crushed olives stain the grass and kitchen floor like trodden beetles. My world has become an olive oil production plant. The full sacks mount up slowly – 11, 12, 13 . . . Continue reading Oil in the blood